Chapter 8 : In French Prisons

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Chapter 8

This text was taken from In Russian and French Prisons, London: Ward and Downey; 1887.

In Russian and French Prisons

by P. Kropotkin



The St. Paul prison at Lyons, where I spent the first three months of my incarceration, is not one of those old, dilapidated, and damp dungeons which are still resorted to in many French provincial towns for lodging prisoners. It is a modern prison, and pretends to rank among the best 'prisons departementales'. It covers a wide area enclosed by a double girdle of high walls; its buildings are spacious, of modern architecture, and clean in aspect; and in its general arrangement the modern ideas in penitentiary matters have been taken into account, as well as all necessary precautions for making it a stronghold in the case of a revolt. Like other departmental prisons, its destination is to receive those prisoners who are awaiting their trial, as also those of the condemned whose penalty does not exceed one year of imprisonment. A subterraneous gallery connects it with another spacious prison for women_the St. Joseph. ' It was on a Dacember night that I arrived there from Thonon, accompanied by three gendarmes. After the usual questions, I was introduced into a pistole which had been cleaned and heated for receiving me, and this pistole became my abode until the following March.

On a payment of six francs per month and three francs to the waiter, each prisoner in carcerated for the first time may hire a pistole during his preventive incarceration, and thus avoid living in the cells. The pistole is also a cell, but it is somewhat wider and much cleaner than the cells proper. A deep window under the ceiling gives enough of light, and six or seven paces may be measured on its stone pavement, from one corner to the opposite one. It has a clean bed and a small iron stove heated with coke, and for one who is occupied and is accustomed to solitude it is a tolerably comfortable dwelling-place---provided the in carceration does not last too long.

Not so the cells, which occupy a separate wing of the prison. Their arrangement is the same as everywhere now in Europe: you enter a broad and high gallery, on both sides of which you see two or three stories of iron balconies; all along these balconies are the doors of the cells, each of which is ten feet long and six or seven feet wide, and has an iron bed, a small table, and a small bench, all three made fast to the walls. These cells are very dirty at Lyons, full of bugs, and never heated, notwithstanding the wetness of the climate and the fogs, which rival in density if not in color, those of London. The gas-burner is never lighted, and so the prisoner remains in an absolute obscurity and idleness from five, or even four on a winter night, until the next morning. Each prisoner himself cleans his cell; that is, he descends every morning to the yard to empty and wash his bucket with dirty water, and he enjoys its exhalations during the day. Even the simplest accommodation for avoidiog this inconvenience, which we found later on at Clairvaux, has not been introduced at Lyons. Of course, no occupation is given to the prisoners during the preventive incarceration, and they mostly remain in perfect idleness throughout the day. The prison begins to exercise its demoralizing influence as soon as the prisoner has entered within its walls.

Happily enough, the imprisonment before the trial is not so dreadfully protracted as in my own mother-country. If the affair is not too complicated, it is brought before the next assizes, which sit every three months, or before the following ones; and cases where the preventive incarceration lasts for more than ten or twelve months are exceptional. As to those affairs which are disposed of by the Police Correctionnelle Courts, they are usually terminated_always by a condemnation_in the course of one month, or even a fortnight. A few prisoners. already condemned, are also kept in the cells_there being a recent law which permits the prisoners to make their time in cellular imprisonment, three months of which are counted as four months of the penalty.

This category, however, is not numerous, a special permission of the Ministry being necessary in each separate case. Small yards, paved with asphalte, and one of them subdivided into three narrow compartments for the inmates of the cellular department, occupy the spaces between the high wings of the prison. There the prisoners take some exercise, or spend several hours in such work as may be done out-doors. Every morning I could see from my window some fifty men descending into the yard; there, taking seats on the asphalte pavement, they were beating the wound-off cocoons from which the floss silk is obtained. Through my window, or while occasionally passing by, I sometimes saw also swarms of boys invading one of the yards; and at a three years' distance I cannot remember these boys without a sad feeling and heartburn.

The condemnations pronounced against children by the always condemning Police Correctionnelle Courts are, in fact, much more ferocious than those pronounoed against adults. The adult may be condemned to a few months or a few years of imprisonment; the boy is invariably sent for the same crime to a "House of Correction," to be kept there until his eighteenth or twenty-first year. When the prosecutions against the Anarchists at Lyons had reached their culminating-point, a boy of fifteen, Cirier, was condemned by the Lyons Court of Appeal to be kept in prison until the age of twenty-one, for having abused the police in a speech pronounced at a public meeting.

The president of the same meeting, for exactly the same offense, was condemned to one year of imprisonment, and he is long since at liberty, while the boy Cirier will remain for several years more in prison. Similar condemnations are quite usual in French Courts. I do not exactly know what the French penitentiary colonies and reformatories for children may be, the opinions which I have heard being very contradictory. Thus I was told that in the colonies the children are treated not very badly, especially since improvements have been introduced of late;* but I was told also, on the other side, that a few years ago, in a penitentiary colony in the environs of Clairvaux, the children were unscrupulously overworked by a person to whom they were entrusted, or rather rented by the State, and that they were abused. At any rate, we saw at Lyons numbers of boys-- mostly runaways and "incorrigible ones" from the penitentiary colonies; and to see the education given to these poor boys was really awful. Brutalized as they are by the warders, and left without any honest and moralizing influence, they are foredoomed to become permanent inmates of prisons, and to die in a central prison, or in New Caledonia. The warders and the priest of the St. Paul prison were unanimous in saying that the only desire which day and night haunts these young people is that of satisfying the most abject passions. In the dormitories, in the church, in the yards, they are always perpetrating the same shameful deeds. When we see the formidable numbers of the attentats a la pudeur brought before the Courts every year, let us always remember that the State itself maintains, at Lyons and in fact in all its prisons, special nurseries for preparing people for those crimes. I seriously invite, therefore, those who elaborate schemes for the legal extermination of recondemned convicts in New Guinea, to hire, for a fortnight or so, a pistole at Lyons, and to re-exramine there their foolish schemes. They would perceive that they begin their reforms from tbe wrong end, and that the real cause of the recidive lies in the perversion due to such infection-nests as the Lyons prison is. As for myself, I suppose that to lock up hundreds of boys in such infection-nests is surely to commit a crime much worse than any of those committed by any of the convicts themselves.

On the whole, the prisons are not places for teaching much honesty, and the St. Paul prison makes no exception to the rule. The lessons in honesty given from above are not much better than those imparted fram below, as will be seen from what follows. Two different systems are in use in French prisons for supplying the inmates with food, dress, and other necessaries. In some of them the State is the undertaker who supplies both food and dress, as also the few other things which the prisoner can purchase at the canteen with his own money (bread, cheese, some meat; wine and tobacco for those who are not yet condemned, prison knives, combs, brushes, paper, and so on). In this case, it is the State which raises a certain percentage, varying from three to nine-tenths on the payment due to the prisoner for the work he has done in prison, either for the State, or for private undertakers; three-tenths of the wages are retained if the prisoner is under preventive incarceration; five tenths if he is condemned for the first time; and six, seven, eight, or nine-tenths if he has had one, two, three, four, or more previous condemnations; one tenth of the salary always remaining for the prisonor, whatever the number of condemnations. In other prisons the whole is rented to a private undertaker, who is bound to supply everything due in accordance with regulations. The undertaker in this case raises the just-named tenths on the salaries of the prisoner, and he is paid, moreover, by the State a few centimes per day for each prisoner. As to those inmates who find it more advantageous to labor for the trade outside (skilled shoemakers, tailors, and scribes are often in this case), they are bound to pay to the undertaker a certain redemption money-mostly 10d. per day_and then they are dispensed from compulsory labor. Now, the St. Paul prison is established on the second system; everything is supplied by a private undertaker, and I must confess that everything is of the worst quality. The undertaker unscrupulously robs the prisoners. Of course the food is far from being as bad as it is in Russian prisons, but still it is very bad, especially if compared with what it is at Clairvaux. The bread is of a low quality, and the soup and ratin of boiled rice, or kidney-beans, are offer execrable. As to the canteen, everything is dear and of the lowest kind; while the Clairvaux administration supplied us for threepence a piece of good steak with potatoes, we paid at Lyons sixpence for a slice of very bad boiled meat, and in the same proportion for everything.

How the works are conducted and paid at Lyons I cannot judge from my own experience, but the above account does not inspire much confidence in the honesty of the enterprise. As to the dress, it is of the worst kind,and also much inferior to what we saw at Clairvaux, where also it leaves very much to desire. When taking my daily walk in one of the yards at Lyons, I often saw the recently condemned peop]e going to change their own dress for that of the prisoners, supplied by the under takers. They were mostly workmen, poorly but still decently dressed_as French workmen, even the poorest, usually are. When they had, however, put on the uniform of the prison_ the brown jacket, all covered with multicolored rage roughly sewn to cover the holes, and the patched-up trousers six inches too short to reach the immense wooden shoes_they came out quite abashed with the ridiculous dress they had assumed. The very first step of the prisoner within the prison walls was thus to be wrapped up in a dress which is in itself a story of degradation.

I did not see much of the relations between the administration and the common-law prisoners at Lyons. But I saw enough to perceive that the warders mostly old police soldiers_maintained all the well-known brutal features of the late Imperial police. As to the higher administration, it is pervaded with the hypocrisy which characterizes the ruliog classes at Lyons. To quote but one example. The Director of the prison had reiterated to me on many occasions the formal promise of never sequestrating any of my letters without letting me know that such letters had been confiscated. It was all I claimed. Notwithstanding that, several of my letters were confiscated, without any notice, and my wife, ill at that time, remained anxious- without news from me. One of my letters, stolen in this way, was even transmitted to the Prooureur Fabreguettes, who read it before the Court of Appeal. I might quote several other examples, but this one will do.

There is in our system of prisons a feature well worthy of notice, but completely lost sight of, and which I would earnestly commend to the attention of all interested in penal matters. The leading idea of our penal system is obviously to punish those who have been recognized as "criminals;" while in reality the penalty of several years of imprisonment hurts much less the "criminal" than people quite innocent_ that is, his wife and children. - However hard the conditions of prison-life, man is so made that he finally accommodates himself to these conditions, and considers them as an unavoid able evil, as soon as he cannot modify them. But there are people--the prisoner's wife and his children_who never can accommodate themselves to the imprisonment of the man who was their only support in life. The judges and lawyers who so freely pronounce sentences of two, three, and five years of imprisonment_have they ever reasoned about the fate they are preparing for the prisoner's wife ? Do they know how few are the women who can earn more than six or seven shillings per-week? And do they know that to live with a family on such a salary means sheer misery with all its dreadful consequences? Have they ever reflected also about the moral sufferings which they are indicting on the prisoner's wife_the despising of her neighbors, the sufferings of the woman who naturally exaggerates those of her husband, the preoccupations for the present and the future ? . . . Who can measure all these sufferings, and count the tears shed by a prisoner's wife ?

If the slightest attention were ever given to the sufferings of the prisoner's kinsfolk, surely the inventors of schemes of civilized prisons would not have invented the reception-halls of the modern dungeons. They would have said to themselves that the only consolation of the prisoner's wife is to see her husband, and they would not have inflicted on her new and quite useless sufferings, and planned those halls where everything has been taken into account --everything excepting the wife who comes once a week to cast a glance on her husband, and to exchange a few words with him.

Imagine a circular vaulted hall, miserably lighted from above. If you enter it at the reception-hours, you are literally stunned. A clamor of some hundred voices speaking, or rather crying all at once, rises from all parts of it towards the vault, which sends them back and mingles them into an infernal noise, to gether with the piercing whistles of the warders, the grating of the locks, and the clashing of the keys. Your eyes must be first accustomed to the darkness before you recognize that the clamor of voices comes from six separate groups of women, children, and men crying all at once to be heard by those whom they address. Behind these groups, you perceive along the walls six other groups of human faces, hardly distinguishable in the darkness behind iron-wire networks and iron bars. You cannot divine at once what is going on in these groups. The fact is, that to have an interview with his kins folk the prisoner is introduced, together with four other prisoners, into a small dark coop, the front of which is covered with a thick network and iron bars. His kinsfolk are introduced into another coop opposite, also covered with iron bars, and separated from the former by a passage three feet wide, where a warder is posted. Each coop receives at once five prisoners; while in the opposite coop some fifteen men, women, and children_the kinsfolk of the five prisoners_are squeezed. The inter views hardly last for more than fifteen or twenty minutes; all speak at once, hasten to speak, and amid the clamor of voices, each of which is raised louder and louder, one soon must cry with all his strength to be heard. After a few minutes of such exercise, my wife and myself were voiceless, and were compelled simply to look at each other without speaking, while I climbed on the iron bars of my coop to raise my face to the height of a small window which feebly lighted the coop from behind; and then my wife could perceive in the darkness my, profile on the gray ground of the window. She used to leave the reception hall saying that such a visit is a real torture. I ought to say a few words about the Palais de Justice at Lyons, where we were kept for ten days during our trial. But I should be com pelled to enter into such disgusting details that I prefer to go on to another subject. Suffice it to say that I have seen rooms where the arrested people were awaiting their turn to be called before the examining magistrate, amid ponds of the most disgusting liquids; aud that there are within this "Palace" several dark cells which have alternately a double destination: some tunes they are literally covered with human excretions; and a few days later, after a hasty sweep, they are resorted to for locking up newly arrested people. Never in my life had I seen anything so dirty as this Palace, which will always remain in my recollections as a palace of filth of all descriptions. It was with a real feeling of relief that I returned from thence to my pistole, where I remained for two months more, while most of my comrades addressed the Court of Appeal This last confirmed, of course, the sentences pronounced by order of Government in the Police Correctionnelle Court; and a few days later, on March 17, 1883, we were brought in the night, in great secrecy, and with a ridiculous display of police force, to the railway-station. There we were packed up in cellular wagons to be transported to the "Maison Centrale" of Clairvaux. It is remarkable how so many improvements in the penitentiary system, although made with excellent intentions of doing away with some evils, always create, in their turn, new evils, and become a new source of pain for the prisoners. Such were the reflections which I made when locked up in a cell of the cellular wagon which was slowly moving towards Clairvaux. A French cellular wagon is an ordinary empty wagon, in the interior of which a light frame-work consisting of two rows of cells, with a passage between, has been coostructed. But I am afraid of conveying a false and exaggerated impression to my readers when I write "two rows of cells." "Two rows of cupboards" would be more correct, for the cells are just the size of small cupboards, where one may sit down on a narrow bench, touching the door with his knees and the sides with his elbows. One need not be very fat to find it difficult to move within this narrow space; and he need not be too much accustomed to the fresh breezes of the sea-side to find difflculties in breathing therein. A small window protected by iron bars, which is cut through the door of the cupboard, would admit enough air; but to prevent the prisoners from seeing one another and talking, there is an additiona1 little instrument of torture in the shape of a Venetian blind, which the warders close as soon as they have locked up somebodg in the cupboard. Another instrument of torture is an iron stove, especially when it runs at full speed to boil the potatoes and roast the meat for the warders' dinner. My fellow-prisoners, all workmen of a great city, accustomed to the want of fresh air in their small workshops, did not actually suffocate, but two of us were prevented from fainting only by being allowed to step out of our respective cupboards and to breathe some air in the passage between.

Happily enough, our journey lasted only fifteen hours; but I have Russian friends, who were expelled from France, and who have spent more than forty-eight hours in a cellular wagon on their way from Paris to the Swiss frontier, the wagon being left in the night at some station, while the warders called at the Macon and other prisons.

The worst is, however, that the prisoners are completely given up to the meroy of the two warders; if the warders like, they put the cuffs on the hands of the prisoners already locked up in the cupboards, and they do that without any reason whatever; and if they like better, they moreover, chain the prisoners' feet by means of irons riveted to the floor of the cupboards. All depends upon the good or bad humor of the warders, and the depth of their psychological deductions. On the whole, the fifteen hours which we spent in the cellular wagon remain among tbe worst reminiscences of all my com rades, and we were quite happy to enter at last the cells at Clairvaux.

The central prison of Clairvaux occupies the site of what formerly was the Abbey of St. Bernard. The great monk of the twelfth century, whose statue, carved in stone, still rises on a neighboring hill, stretching its arms towards the prison, had well chosen his residence at the mouth of a fine little dale supplied with excellent water from a fountain, and at the entrance to a wide and fertile plain watered by the Aube. Wide forests cover still the gentle slopes of the hills, whose flanks supply good building-stone. Several lime-kilos and forges are scattered round about, and the Paris and Belfort railway runs now within a mile from the prison.

During the great Revolution the abbey was confiscated by the State, and its then extensive and solid buildings became, in the earlier years of our century, a Depot de Mendicite. Later on, their destination was changed, and now the former abbey is a " Maison de Detention et de Correction," which shelters about 1400 and occasionally 2000 in mates. It is one of the largest in France; its outer wall_the mur d'enceinte_a formidable masonry some twenty feet high, encloses, besides the prison proper, a wide area occupied by the buildings of the administration, barracks of the soldiers, orchards, and even corn-fields, and has an aggregate length of nearly three miles. The buildings of the prison proper, with its nume rous workshops, cover a square about 400 yards wide, enclosed by another still higher wall_ the mur de ronde.

With its lofty chimneys, which day and night send their smoke towards a mostly cloudy sky, and the rhythmical throbbing of its machinery, which is heard late in the night, it has the aspect of a little manu facturing town. In fact, there are within its walls more manufactures than in many small towns. There are a big manufacture of iron beds and iron furniture, lighted by electricity, and employing more than 400 men; workshops for weaving velvet, cloth, and linen; for making frames to pictures, looking-glasses, and meters; for cutting glass and fabricating all kinds of ladies' attire in pearl-shell; yards for cutting stone; flour-mills, and a variety of smaller workshops; all dress for the inmates is made by the men themselves. The whole machinery is set in motion by four powerful steam-engines and one turbine. An immense orchard and a corn-field, as also small orchards allotted to each warder and employee, are also comprised within the outer wall and cultivated by the prisoners.

Without seeing it, one could hardly imagine what an immense fitting up and expenditure are necessary for lodging and giving occupa tion to some 1400 prisoners. Surely the State 277 never would have undertaken this immense expenditure, had it not found at Clairvaux, St. Michel, and elsewhere, ready-made buildings of old abbeys. And it never would have organized so wide a system of productive work, had it not attracted private undertakers by renting to them the prisoners' labor at a very low price, to the disadvantage of free private industry. And still, the current ex penses of the State for keeping up the Clair vaux prison and the line must be very heavy.


numerous and costly administration, seventy warders, nourished, lodged, and paid from 45l. to 56l. per year, and a company of soldiers which are kept at Clairvaux, bear hard on the budget_not to speak of the expenses of the central administration, the transport of prisoners, the infirmary, and so on. It is ob vious that the above-mentioned percentage, raised on the salaries of the prisoners, which does not exceed an average of 6d. per day and per head of employed men, falls very short of defraying all these heavy expenses.

Leaving aside the political prisoners vrho are occasionally sent thither, there are at Clair vaux two different categories of inmates. The great number are common-law prisoners condemned to more than one year of imprison ment but not to hard labor (these last being transported to New Caledonia); and there are, besides, a few dozen of soldiers condemned by martial courts_the so-called detentionnaires. These last are a sad product of our system of militarism. A soldier who has assaulted his corporal, or officer, is usually condemned to death; but if he has been provoked_which is mostly the case- the penalty is commuted into a twenty years' imprisonment, and he is sent to Clairvaux. I cannot explain how it happens, but there are detentionnaires who have to undergo two or three like condemnations_ probably for assaults committed during their imprisonment. There was much talk, during our stay at Clairvaux, of a man, about forty years old, who had cumulated an aggregate penalty reaching sixty-five years of imprison ment; he could fulfill his sentence only if he could prolong his life beyond his hundredth year. On the 14th of July, twenty-five years of his term were taken off by a decree of the Presi dent of the Republic; but still the man had some forty years more to remain imprisoned. It may seem incredible, but it is true.

Everybody recognizes the absurdity of such condemnations, and therefore the detention aires are not submitted to the usual regimen of the common-law prisoners. They are not constrained to compulsory labor, and they enter a workshop only if they like. They wear a better gray dress than other prisoners, and are permitted to take wine at the canteen. Those who do not go to the workshops occupy a separate quarter, and spend years and years in doing absolutely nothing. It is easy to con ceive wbat some thirty soldiers, who have spent several years in barracks, may do when they are locked up for twenty years or so in a prison, and have no occupation of any kind, either intellectual or physical. Their quarter has so bad a reputation that the rains of brim stone which destroyed the two Biblical town are invoked upon it by the administration.

As to the common-law prisoners, they are submitted to a regimen of aompulsory labor, and of absolute silence. This last, however, is so adverse to human nature that it has in fact been given up. It is simply impossible to prevent people from speaking when at work in the workshops; and, without trebling the number of warders and resorting to ferocious punishments, it is not easy to prevent prisoners from exchanging words during the hours of rest, or from chattering in dormitories. During our stay at Clairvaux we saw the system abandoned more and more, and I sup pose that the watchword is now merely to pro hibit loud speaking and quarrels.

Early in the morning_at five in the summer, and at six in the winter_a bell rings,: The prisoners must immediately rise, roll up their beds, and descend into the yards, where they stand in racks, the men of each workshop separately under the command of a warder. On his order, they march in Indian file, at a slow pace, towards their respective workshops, the warder loudly crying out, un, deux! un, deux! and the heavy wooden shoes answering in cadence to the word of command. A few minutes later, the steam-engines sound their call, and the machines run at full speed. At nine (half-past eight in the summer) the work is stopped for an hour, and the prisoners are marched to the refectories. There they are seated on benches, all faces turned in one direc tion, so as to see only the backs of the men on the next bench, and they take their breakfast. At ten they return to the workshops, and the work is interrupted only at twelve, for ten minutes, and at half-past two, when all men less than thirty-five years old, and having re ceived no instruction, are sent for an hour to the school.

At four the prisoners go to take their dinner; it lasts for half-an-hour, and a walk in the yards follows. The same Indian files are made up, and they slowly march in a circle, the warder always crying his cadenced, un, deux! They call that "faire la queue de saucissons. At five the work begins again and lasts until eight in the winter, and until nightfall during the other seasons.

As soon as the machinery is stopped_which is done at six, or even earlier in September or March_the prisoners are locked up in the dormitories. There they must lie in their beds from half-past six until six the next morning, and I suppose that these hours of enforced rest must be the most painful hours of the day. Certainly, they are permitted to read in their beds until nine, but the permission is effective only for those whose beds are close to the gas-burners. At nine the lights are diminished. During the night each dormitory remains under the supervision of prevots who are nominated from among the prisoners and who have the more red lace on their sleeves, as they are the more assiduous in spying and denouncing their comrades.

On Sundays the work is suspended. The prisoners spend the day in the yards, if the weather permits, or in the workshops, where they may read, or talk_but not too loud_or in the school-rooms, where they write letters. A band composed of some thirty prisoners plays in the yard, and for half-an-hour goes out of the interior walls to play in the cour d'honneur_a yard occupied by the lodgings of the administration_while the fire-brigade takes some excercise. At six all must be in their beds.

Besides the men who are at work in the workshops, there is also a brigade exterieure, the men of which do various work outside the prison proper, but still within its outer wall_ such as repairs, painting, sawing wood, and so on. They also cultivate the orchards of the house and those of the warders, for salaries reaching but a few pence per day. Some of them are also sent to the forest for cutting wood, cleaning a canal, and so on. No escape is to be feared, because only such men are admitted to the exterior brigade as have but one or two months more to remain at Clairvaux.

Such is the regular life of the prison; a life running for years without the least modifica tion, and which acts depressingly on man by its monotony and its want of impressions; a life which a man can endure for years, but which he cannot endure if he has no aim beyond this life itself_without being depressed and reduced to the state of a machine which obeys, but has no will of its own; a life which results in an atrophy of the best qualities of man and a development of the worst of them, and, if much prolonged, renders him quite unfit to live afterwards in a society of free fellow-creatures.

As to us, the "politicals" we had a special regimen_namely, that of prisoners submitted to preventive incarceration. We kept our own dress; we were not compelled to be shaved, and we could smoke. We occupied three spacious rooms, with a separate small room for myself, and had a little garden, some fifty yards long and ten yards wide, where we did some gardening on a narrow strip of earth along the wall, and could appreciate, from our own experience, the benefits of an "intensive culture." One would suspect me of exaggeration if I enumerated all crops of -vegetables we made in our kitchen-garden, less than fifty square yards. No compulsory work was im. posed upon us; and my comrades_all work men who had left at home their families without support_never could obtain any regular employment. They tried to sew ladies' stays for an undertaker of Clairvaux, but soon abandoned the work, seeing that with the deduction of three-tenths of their salaries for the State they could not earn more than from three to four pence a day. They gladly accepted the work in pearl-shell, although it was paid but a little better than the former, but the orders came only ocoasionally, for a few days. Over-production had occasioned stagnation in this trade, and other work could not be done in our rooms, while any inter course with the common-law prisoners was severely prohibited.


Reading and the study of languages were thus the chief occupations of my comrades.


workman can study only when he has the chance of being imprisoned_and they studied earnestly. The study of languages was very successful, and I was glad to find at Clairvaux a practical proof of what I formerly maintained on theoretical grounds_namely, that the Russians are not the only people who easily learn foreign languages. My French comrades learned, with great ease, English, German, Italian, and Spanish; some of them mastered two languages during a two years' stay at Clairvaux. Bookbinding was among us the most beloved occupation. Some instru ments were made out of pieces of iron and wood; heavy stones and small carpenters' presses were resorted to; and as we finally obtained_about the end of the second year_ some tools worth this name, all learned book binding with the facility with which an intelli gent workman learns a new profession, and most of us reached perfection in the art.

A special warder was always kept in our quarter, and as soon as some of us were in the yard, he regularly took his seat on the steps at tee door. In the night we were locked up under at least six or seven locks, and, more over, a round of warders passed each two hours, and approached each bed in order to ascertain that nobody had vanished.


rigorous supervision, never relaxed, and main tained by the mutual help of all warders, is exercised on the prisoners as soon as they have left the dormitories. During the last two years I met with my wife in a little room with in the walls, and, together with some one of our sick comrades, we took a walk in the soli tary little garden of the Director, or in the great orchard of the prison; and never during these two years was I deft out of sight of the warder who accompanied us, for so much as five minutes.

No newspapers penetrated into our rooms, excepting scientific periodicals or illustrated weekly papers. Only in the second year of our imprisonment were we permitted to receive a halfpenny colorless daily paper, and a Govern ment paper published at Lyons. No socialist literature was admitted, and I could not intro duce even a book of my own authorship deal ing with socialist literature. As to writing, the most severe control was exercised on the manuscripts I intended to send out of the prison. Nothing dealing with social questions, and still less with Russian affairs, was per mitted to issue from the prison-walls. The com mon-lawprisoners are permitted to write letters only once a month, and only to their nearest relatives. As to us, we could correspond with friends as much as we liked, but all letters sent or received were submitted to a severe censor ship, which was the cause of repeated conflicts with the administration.

The food of the prisoners is, in my opinion, quite insufficient. The daily allowance consists chiefly of bread, 850 grams per day (one pound and nine-tenths). It is gray, but very good, and if a prisoner complains of having not enough of it, one loaf, or two, per week are added to the above. The breakfast consists of a soup which is made with a few vegetables, water, and American lard_this last very often rancid and bitter. At dinner the same soup is given, and a plate of two ounces of kidney beans, rice, lentils, or potatoes is added. Twice a week, the soup is made with meat, and then it is served only at breakfast, two ounces of boiled meat being given instead of it at dinner. The men are thus compelled to purchase additional food at the canteen, where they have for very honest prices, varying from three farthings to twopence, small rations of cheese, or sausage, pork-meat, and sometimes tripe, as also milk, and small rations of figs, jams or fruits in the summer. Without this supple mentary food the men obviously could not maintain their strength; but many of them, and especially old people, earn so little that, after deducting the percentage-money raised by the State, they cannot spend at the canteen even twopence per day. I really wonder how they manage to keep body and soul together.

Two different kinds of work are made by the prisoners at Clairvaux. Some of them are employed by the State, either in its manufac tures of linen, cloth, and dress for the prisoners, or in various capacities in the house itself Joiners, painters, man-nurses in the infirmary, accountants, &c.). They are mostly paid from 8d. to 10d. a day. Most, however, are employed in the above-mentioned workshops by private undertakers. Their salaries, established by the Chambre de Commerce at Troyes, vary very much, and are mostly very low, especially in those trades where no safe scale of salaries can be established on account of the great variety of patterns fabricated, and of the great sub division of labor. Very many men earn but from 6d. to 8d. per day; and it is only in the iron bed manufacture that the salaries reach ls. 8d. and occasionally more; while I found that the average salaries of 125 men employed in various capacities reached only 11d. (1 franc 17 centimes) per day. This figure is, however, perhaps above the average, there being a great number of prisoners who earn but 7d. or even 5d., especially in the workshop for the fabrica tion of socks, where old people are sent to die from the dust and exhaustion.

Several reasons might be adduced as an apology for these small salaries; the low quality of prison-work, the fluctuations of trade, and several other considerations ought no doubt to be taken into account. But the fact is that undertakers who have rapidly made big fortunes in the prisons are not rare; while the prisoners consider with full reason that they are robbed when they are paid only a few pence for twelve hours' work. Such a payment is the more insufficient, as one half, or more, of the salaries is taken by the State, and the regular food supplied by the State is quite inadequate, especially for a man who is doing work.

If the prisoner has had a previous condemna tion before being sent to a central prison_and this is very often the case_and if his salary is 10d. per day, 6d. are taken by the State, and the remaining 4d. are divided into two equal parts, one of which goes to the prisoner's reserve-fund and is handed over to him only on the day of his delivery; while the other part- that is, 2d. only_is inscribed on his " dispos able " account, and may be spent for his daily expenses at the canteen. With 2d. per day for supplementary food a workman obviously can not live and labor. In consequence of that a system of gratifications has been introduced; they mostly vary from two to five shillings, and they, are inscribed in full on the prisoner's "disposable" account. It is certain that this system of gratifications has given rise to many abuses. Suppose a skilled workman who is condemned for the third time and of whose salary the State retains seven-tenths. Suppose further that the work he has made during the mouth is valued at 40s. The State taking from this salary 28s., there will remain only 6s. to be inscribed on his "disposable" account. He proposes then to the undertaker to value his work only at 20s. and to add a gratification of 10s. The undertaker accepts, and so the State has only 14s.; the undertaker disburses 30s. instead of 40s., and the prisoner has on his disposable account 3s., as also the whole of the gratification_that is, 13s.; all are thus satisfied, and if the State is at loss of 14s._ma foi, tant pis !

Things look still worse if the great tempter of mankind_tobacco_be taken into account. Smoking is severely prohibited in prisons, and the smokers are fined from 5d. to 4s. every time they are discovered smoking. And yet every body smokes or chews in the prisons. Tobacco is the current money, but a money so highly prized that a cigarette_a nothing for an accom plished smoker_is paid 2d., and the 5d. paquet of tobacco has a currency worth 4s. or even more in times of scarcity. This precious mer chandise is so highly esteemed that each pinch of tobacco is first chewed, then dried and smoked, and finally taken as snuff, although reduced to mere ash. Useless to say that there are undertakers who know how to exploit this human weakness and who pay half of the work done with tobacco, valued at the above prices, and that there are also warders who carry on this lucrative trade. Altogether, the pro bibition of smoking is a source of so many evils that the French Administration probably will be compelled soon to follow the example of Germany and to sell tobacco at the canteens of the prisons. This would be also the surest means for diminishing the number of smokers.

We came to Clairvaux at a propitious moment. All the old administration had been recently dismissed, and a new departure taken in the treatment of prisoners. A year or two before our arrival a prisoner was killed in his cell by the keys of the warders. The official report was to the effect that he had hanged himself; but the surgeon did not sign this report, and made another report of his own, stating. the assassination. This circumstance led to a thorough reform in the treatment of prisoners, and I am glad to say that the relations between the prisoners and the warders at Clairvaux were without comparison better tnan at Lyons. In fact, I saw much less brutality and more human relations than I was prepared to see--and yet the system itself is so bad that it brings about most horrible results.

Of course the relatively better wind which now blows over Clairvaux may change in a day or two. The smallest rebellion in the prison would bring about a rapid change for the worse, as there are enough warders and inspectors who sigh for " the old system," which is still in use in other French prisons. Thus, while we were at Clairvaux, a man was brought thither from Poissy_a central prison close by Paris. He considered his condemna tion as unjust, and cried loudly day after day in his cell. In fact, he already had the symptoms of a commencing madness. But, to silence him the Poissy authorities invented the following-plan. They brought a fire-engine and pumped water on the man through the open ing in the door of his cell; they then left him quite wet in his cell, notwithstanding the winter's frost. The intervention of the Press was necessary to bring about the dismissal of the Director. As to the numerous revolts which have broken out during the last two years in almost all French prisons, they seem to show that " the old system " is in full force still.

And now, what are these better relations between warders and prisoners which I saw at Clairvaux? Many chapters could be written about them, but I shall try to be as short as possible, and point out only their leading features. It is obvious that a long life of the warders in common and the very necessities of their service have developed among them a certain brotherhood, or rather esprit de corps, which causes them to act with a remarkable uniformity in their relations with the prisoners. In consequence of that esprit de corps, as soon as a prisoner is brought to the prison, the first question of the warders is whether he is a soumis or an insoumis_a submissive fellow, or an insubordinate. If the answer is favor able, the prisoner's life may be a tolerable one; if not, he will not soon leave the prison; and if he happens ever to leave it, he will do it with broken health, and so exasperated against society that he will be soon interned in a prison again, and finish his days there, if not in New Caledonia. If the prisoner is described as an insubordinate, he will be punished again and again.; If he speaks in the ranks, although not louder than the others, a remonstrance will be made in such terms that ho will reply and be punished. And each punishment will be so disproportionate that he will object to it, and the punishment be doubled. " A man who has been once sent to the punishment quarter, is sure to return thither a few days after- he has been released from it," say the warders, even the mildest ones. And this punishment is not a light one.

The man is not beaten; he is not knocked down. No, we are civilized people, and the punished man is merely brought to the cellular quarter, and locked up in a cell. The cell is quite empty: it has neither bed nor bench. For the night a mattres is given, and the prisoner must lay his dress outside his cell, at the door. Bread and water are his food. As soon as the prison-bell rings in the morning, he is taken to a small covered yard, and there he must_walk. Nothing more; but our refined civilization has learned how to make a torture even of this natural exercise. At a formal slow pace, under the cries of un, deux, the patients must walk all the day long, round the building. They walk for twenty minutes; then a rest follows. For ten minutes they must sit down immovable, each of them on his numbered stone, and walk again for twenty minutes; and so on through all the day, as long as the engines of the workshops are run ning; and the punishment does not last one day, or two; it lasts for whole months. It is so cruel that the prisoner implores but one thing: "Let me return to the workshops." " Well, we shall see that in a fortnight or two," is the usual answer. But the fortnight goes over, and the next one too, and the patient still continues to walk for twelve hours a day. Then he revolts. Ee begins to cry in his cell, to insult the warders. Then he becomes "a rebel"; -a dreadful qualification for any one who is in the hands of the brotherhood of warders-and as such he will rot in the cells, and walk throughout his life. If he assaults a warder, he will not be sent to New Caledonia: he will still remain in his cell, and ever walk and walk in the small building. One man, a peasant, seeing no issue from this horrible situation, preferred to poison himself rather than live such a life a terrible story which I shall some day tell in full.

As we were walking with my wife in the garden, more than two hundred yards distant from the cellular quarter, we heard sometimes horrible, desperate cries coming from that building. My wife, terrified and trembling, seized my arm, and I told her that it was the man whom they had watered with the fire-pump at Poissy, and now, quite contrary to the law, had brought here, to Clairvaux. Day after day _two, three days without interruption, he cried, " Vaches, gredins, assassins !" (vache is the name of the warders in the prisoner's slang), or loudly called out his story, until he fell, exhausted, on the floor of his cell. He con sidered as unjust his detention at Clairvaux in the punishment quarter, and he declared loudly that he would kill a warder rather than remain all his life in a cell. For the next two months he remained quiet. An inspector had vaguely promised him that he might be sent into the workshops on the 14th of July. But the " Fete Nationale" came, and the man was not released. His exasperation then had no limits; he cried, insulted, and assaulted the warders, destroyed the wooden parts of his cell, and finally was sent to the black-hole, where heavy irons were laid upon his hands and feet. I have not seen these irons, but when he reappeared again in the cellular quarter, he loudly cried out that he was kept in the black-hole for two months, with irons on his hands and feet so heavy that he could not move. He already is half mad, and he will be kept in the cell until he becomes a complete lunatic, and then ... then he will be submitted to all those tortures which lunatics have to endure in prisons and asylums....

And the immense problem of suppressing these atrocities rises at its full size before Us. The relations between the administration and the prisoners are not imbued at Clairvaux with the brutality which I have spoken of in the preceding chapters. And yet our penitentiary system fatally brings about such horrible results as the above_the more horrible as they must be considered a necessary consequence of the system itself. But why are these sufferings inflicted on human creatures? What are the moral results achieved at the cost of such sufferings ? In what direction lies the solution of the immense problem raised by our system of punishments and prisons? Such are the grave questions which necessarily rise before the observer.

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